Karl’s Chronicles; The Kaiser’s Footprint
Though King Leopold II’s interest in Central Africa soon enticed other European powers to launch their claims on the continent, Germany had never shown any interest. With Bismarck openly lauding the idea as expensive and unnecessary. But in a cunning move over Cameroon, Germany entered the arena of political posturing, intrigue and territorial grabbing in the scramble for Africa.
British Consul – Edward Hewett had embarked on a mission in mid-1884, to obtain an agreement from King Acqua and King Bell that would help ensure British domination around the sensitive Oil Rivers Coast (present-day Nigeria) and manifest a new domain to her empire. Britain and France had recently fallen out over duel-control on Egypt ending their forty-year entente. Egypt was effectively bankrupt and to side-step the financial burden of subsidizing Egypt herself, Britain required European permission to raise loans. Britain had recently signed a treaty acknowledging Portugal’s claim over the lower Congo up to the first rapids. Which was an attempt to secure British trade as well as block any advance by Pierre de Brazza’s drive down the Niger and towards the sea. France threatened retaliation in Egypt while privately enticing Germany through Bismarck to help crush the treaty.
Hewett continued along West Africa’s coast – dropping anchor a month later in Benin to obtain a series of agreements before continuing east to Cameroon. In mid-July, caught up in a disagreement with Benin chiefs, he received worrying reports from Cameroon of foreigners engaging in a deal with King Acqua and King Bell.
Encouraged by a week-long window to produce a counter-treaty, Hewett raced to Bell Town. However, he was too late, the Kaiser’s black cross was already flying. It was Dr Gustav Nachtigal who informed the dismayed Hewett that Cameroon was a dominion of the German Emperor. It would be the very same Nachtigal who would add Togoland as well. Germany, kitted with waterproofs, waded into the perilous, distrustful and imperialist current that flowed around and through Africa. Such was the filthy political morass underneath that nations frequently lost their footing. By 1914, Germany had lost everything.
If Hewett was astounded by such duplicity, Bismarck’s staff were just as delirious. Nachtigal, currently stationed in Lisbon had been cabled by Prince Bismarck in May, three days after Hewett had set sail from England. Nachtigal’s orders were to secure Cameroon for Germany as well as Little Popo (Togo) and Angra Pequena in S.W. Africa. On the 5th July in the same year, Gustav Nachtigal – Imperial Consul General signed a treaty with chief Mlapa III at Lake Togo, making Togo a German protectorate. The territory would encompass a former part of the slave coast on the Bight of Benin.
Germany exercised her control further inland. Agricultural crops of coffee, cocoa and cotton were improved as settlers arrived with their scientific methods on cultivation. Though only a decade away from the close of the 19th century, there were no more than a dozen officials in Togoland. Infrastructure became a priority with Germany investing more significant money than either Britain or France in their neighbouring territories. Roads were soon advancing across the country towards the mountainous landscape around The Plateau. Bridges brought ease of accessibility across the rivers, and three train lines left Lome. The first in 1905 ran along the coast to Anecho, the first German capital 2km short of the border with Benin. Two years later and a line reached Kpalime, and by 1911, the ‘Hinterlandbaha’ reached Atakpame, a quarter of the way across her domain. Today only a tiny fraction is in operation, used solely for freight. But one can still see the tracks, slicing through the bush or partially visible under the dust and mayhem of a regional market.
The Germans soon employed Polizetruppe into their manifesto for progression, incorporating infantry of 25 Hausa to press their authority. Launching aggressive campaigns against Kpandu and a series of other towns that continued to resist colonial hegemony — often burning down villages, confiscating property and metering out harsh financial punishments. It wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that such measures finally subdued the population. A year before the First Great War, the German population had reached almost 316, nearly one fifth were women and children.
Allied troops of France and Britain invaded Togoland on 7th August 1914 and quickly advanced to Lome. The Entente forces headed north to take a radio station in Kamina, just outside Atakpame where the Germans maintained a direct link with Berlin. German technicians destroyed the transmitter the night before their surrender in Kamina on 26th August 1914. By late December, Togoland had been separated into British and French administration zones. Once ratified by the Treaty of Versailles on 20th July 1922, a League of Nations mandate divided the land into two-thirds French Togoland and a third as British Togoland. The latter being absorbed into Ghana as a result of a referendum held by people in West Togo who wanted amalgamation. The area became the Volta region just before independence.
In the rear room of the National Museum in Lome, hanging from the wall in a precise line that even Germans would be proud of are black and white portraits of all Togoland’s Governors. It is quite surprising with how much regularity they changed, often after three or four years. The first three Governors: Von Putkammer, August Kolher and Craf Von Zech exhibit that starched conceited pose that was relevant to the day. Sober eyes, a buffalo-horned moustache above tight lips and dressed in military attire. In 1912, Adolf Frederick Von Mecklembourg became the last Governor of Togoland, and I wondered when he took office if he had any idea how unstable his future governance would ultimately become.
Facts: Though the colonial reign has long since passed, there are still functional as well as crumbling buildings that project the German era.
Anecho now Aneho can be visited as a day trip from Lome, but there are places to reside if your interest is great.
Exchange Rates £1=758. $1= 590. 1 Euro=656
Hotel Oasis: +228 23 31 01 25
Comes highly recommended with spotless rooms starting at 11,000cfa. Air-con 16.500cfa. Located on the route de Lome/Cotonou. The terrace restaurant with its views across to the fishermen casting their nets into the shallow waters is an ideal way to enjoy a drink.
Hotel Le Becca : +228 23 31 05 13
A cheaper option to stay with basic rooms but clean rooms. 11.000 – 12.000cfa for a fan room. 16.500 – 21.000 for air-con.
In the old crumbling town itself, there is the Peter and Paul church, the prefecture near the bridge, a German cemetery and a well-restored Protestant church. The town has a French presence that came afterwards with villas used by the administrators.
The German train tracks pass through the district of Agbouno where there is a lively Saturday market. The train shed, and station are still there but in a deplorable condition. The old stone-built roads that connect the higher districts in the hilly town of Atakpame are still evident, and many are in an impressive state. Almost a calling to the limited duration of modern built roads.
Roughly five kilometres outside Atakpame is the village of Kamina where Germany surrendered her dominion of Togo. The old building where the radio transmitter once stood is located on the main road which is now used as a scout centre. Opposite, right at the road’s edge is a single white tiled grave of a German officer. In Kamina, adjacent to three mango trees planted by the colonists are a pair of defunct double-story administration buildings which are gradually falling apart but a good window in how the Germans lived. The buildings stood empty for a decade after Germany capitulated until the French moved in. A school was later added at the rear of the grounds which had workshops teaching mechanics, blacksmith and woodwork. Some of them still stand with wooden lockers inside and work stations where students would have done their practical.
Hotel California: +228 23 35 85 44
Rooms with fan and shared bath: 3.000cfa. With air-con: 9.500 CFA upwards. Located behind the Total petrol-station in town. It has clean, functional rooms and an on-site restaurant.
La Sahelian: + 228 24 40 12 44
One of the best hotels in Atakpame though recent reports suggest the hotel side could benefit from a makeover. The restaurant, however, is busy and popular. An informal down to earth street-side eatery with a large grill and an upstairs terrace.
Has an elegant brown and white German Catholic church that stands in the east of town. Still welcoming in the congregation through its high iron gates. Further metal ribbons that once carried in the trains are just noticeable in the market. The disused station stands to the west. Upon Mount Klouto, 11 km east is an old German hospital now converted into a simple hotel. Wide lawns set under mango and teak with colonial features left undisturbed. The views from the summit, a twenty-minute walk away are impressive and the air, being on a mountain is much cooler. Known as the Campement de Klouto, the hotel offers simple rooms with attached bathroom starting at 7000CFA. There is an on-site restaurant and bar with a lovely terrace, but the food is limited. A ten-minute walk into the village of Kouma Konda will give you a few other restaurants offering both European and African cuisine. Chez Nectar is one while a second stands close to the Association de Guides.